Andy Murray is the “what if?” man of tennis.
What if the 29-year-old Scot hadn’t been born just one week earlier than Novak Djokovic?
What if Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal had found an era other than Murray’s to torment?
Murray would almost certainly have many grand slam titles, that’s what.
Against Djokovic in the French Open final on Sunday, Murray again showed that he has the game to have been a serial winner had it not been his misfortune to cross paths with three of tennis’s greatest players.
Instead of becoming Britain’s first French Open champion since Fred Perry in 1935, Murray watched his tally of major titles stay stuck on two – the US Open in 2012 and Wimbledon in 2013.
This was the eighth time that Murray has come close enough to a grand slam trophy to almost sniff it and found himself holding the runner’s-up plate instead.
Five finals he lost to Djokovic (four at the Australian Open and now one at Roland Garros). His three other finals losses were to Federer – at the US Open in 2008, the Australian Open in 2010 and Wimbledon in 2012. Murray also has lost five grand slam semifinals to Nadal.
While all three have made tennis history, with Djokovic now joining Federer and Nadal in winning titles at all four majors, Murray’s achievement has mostly been to earn himself a courtside seat. Not much of a consolation.
“Obviously the guys I have been around the last few years have made things difficult for me,” Murray said after Djokovic’s 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 victory.
“I have been ‘close-ish’ to winning all of the slams now and, you know, unfortunately all of them have done it instead.”
At 34 and 30, Federer and Nadal are showing signs of wear and tear. Federer missed the French Open with a bad back; Nadal pulled out with an injured left wrist.
Murray, fit as a flea at 29, might have stepped into that vacuum if not for Djokovic. His dominance is such that Federer’s record total of 17 grand slam titles no longer looks unattainable for the top-ranked Serb, who now has 12 and, most impressively, holds all four major titles at the same time.
If anyone can slow Djokovic’s inexorable progress, it will be likely be No. 2 Murray – the only man, at the moment at least, who looks capable of going toe-to-toe with him for a set or two in best-of-five matches. After all, Murray’s lone major championships came at Djokovic’s expense in the finals.
“I guess I’ve got a few more years to try and do that,” Murray said.
“When I finish, I will be more proud of my achievements, maybe. None of the big events I have won have I done it without beating one of those guys, you know, or a couple of them.”